On one of the toughest corners on Chicago’s West Side, Derek “Shotgun” Brown discovered that his food truck was missing some important materials.
“Someone broke into my truck and stole my grills, man,” Brown told America Tonight correspondent Christof Putzel. “They took like two of my grills.”
For Brown, life is different now. It has been two months since CeaseFire, an organization that tries to mediate gang conflicts, was forced to shut down its South Side and West Side offices in Chicago. The one-year, $1 million funding initiative for the group dried up, putting some employees including Brown out of work. There has been talk that the city might allocate money for CeaseFire in the 2014 budget, but that remains to be seen.
In August, America Tonight did a special four-part series on gang violence in Chicago, and the people working to end it. Brown, a former chief of the notorious Vice Lords street gang, turned his life around, joining CeaseFire as a "violence interrupter" to help young people avoid the pitfalls of gang life.
CeaseFire approaches violence like a contagious disease, and its violence interrupters, alumni of the streets themselves, try the break the cycle of retaliatory violence by talking to gang members and sharing their story.
A 2008 evaluation, conducted by Northwestern University and funded by the U.S. Department of Justice, found that CeaseFire's work led to a significant reduction in shootings in the neighborhoods where it operated. The model was replicated in Baltimore, Kansas City, Mo., Brooklyn, N.Y., and Basra, Iraq. In 2012, the United States Conference of Mayors passed a resolution of support for violence prevention strategies "pioneered by the CeaseFire health approach."
But not even support from the community could help save CeaseFire, leaving Brown and others without jobs. Considering his past, which includes serving a number of years in prison, the prospects of finding a different job were low. “For me to go for a job, they look at my background and it’s automatically X’ed out,” Brown told Putzel. He later added: “We are stuck between a rock and a hard place.”
But Brown had to eat, so he decided to open a food truck.
For more on Brown’s story post-CeaseFire, watch America Tonight at 9 p.m. ET, and read up on stories from our Fight for Chicago series.